In This Episode: From California, where I came to see and reflect on the End of Mission for the Cassini spacecraft — its so-called Grand Finale. This isn’t about the mission per se, but rather the thinking behind it, how that fits into True’s mission, and how that ties into this week’s Honorary Unsubscribe! In other words, The Bigger Picture.
Chasing New Horizons:
Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto
by Alan Stern & David Grinspoon
I’ve been waiting for this one! After pre-ordering months ago, this book arrived on its publication date: May 1 — and it’s spectacular.
Note: I actually wrote this in January to explain the background on an item I had put up for auction. It was deleted once the auction was over, but a reader wanted to be able to point someone at the text because he thought it was interesting. So here it is. –RC
Updated with Post-Eclipse photos and video. (Jump to Updates)
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon gets between the sun and Earth, casting a shadow on the Earth’s surface. This can happen only during a new moon when the sun and the moon are in conjunction as seen from Earth in an alignment referred to as syzygy.
Long-time readers know that This is True was created while I still had a Day Job. It was a very cool job: I was on the engineering staff at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (1986-1996 — True was started in 1994, so there was a two-year overlap).
I have quite a bit to say about the lead story this week. Let’s start with the story, from the 23 November 2014 issue:
As a life-long NASA geek (and former employee of a NASA center), I pay reasonably close attention to the goings on at NASA. I spotted something in my Facebook feed, though, that made me roll my eyes about how not to inform the public about something that should be of great interest.
It’s been forever since I’ve written a “What I’ve been reading lately” blurb. You’ll like what has been on my tablet lately. (It’s amusing that while putting this in my blog software and having to choose categories, both “Away From Work” and “True Business” seem appropriate. Read on, and you’ll understand!)
It’s 2012. There are no more adventures. Been there, done that, seen it, ho hum, right?
There are still adventures to be had in this world, and several of them happened this past week.
My writing time this week was interrupted: I only started in the late evening, because I had my satellite TV tuned in to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where they were monitoring the landing of the latest rover on Mars, Curiosity (the best-named science craft ever); the mission itself is called the Mars Science Laboratory — accurate, if not as inspiring.
On Saturday my wife and I had the opportunity to “have dinner with” the first man to set foot on the moon, Neil Armstrong. It happened to be almost exactly* 43 years after that spectacular event. Like many kids who grew up in the 60s and watched that history being made, Armstrong was a hero to me, so when I got the opportunity to do this, I of course leapt at it.
Now and then I mention interesting books I’m reading, or TV shows I’m watching. I’ve found two related TV specials that are so good, I ended up saving them and showing them to my wife, who is also finding them fascinating.
I’m really taken with a video released on YouTube last week. It’s an Auto-Tune, which is the name given to soundtracks that use the audio plug-in of the same name. Auto-Tune was designed to correct the pitch of vocals, but clever music creators realized they could use it to make spoken word recordings musical. This is a fantastic example of the genre.
“Seven Minutes of Terror” — that’s what NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where I worked for 10 years before leaving to work on True full time, went through yesterday.
This weekend the Space Shuttle Columbia was destroyed during its atmospheric re-entry after a successful 16-day mission.
Yes, True is about weird news. More importantly, it’s about thinking, which implies a quest for knowledge and understanding. That’s most evident in my editorials; here are two of them on the same subject, starting with one from May 2002:
I caught up this week with one of the few TV shows I’m watching — the newest Star Trek series, Enterprise.
I personally assign very great value to “job satisfaction.” I mean, I’m a space nerd — I grew up watching the astronauts skipping on the moon — and managed to get onto the engineering staff of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, working 10 years there before I quit to devote full time to This is True.